OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE
I find that sometimes, a comedy can be so amused by itself that it becomes more irritating than amusing. Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is such a project. A bit too self-aware, Ruse de Guerre throws a lot at the viewer with limited effect.
Battle-hardened superspy Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) is brought in by British intelligence officer Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) for his most dangerous assignment yet. Fortune must retrieve "The Handle", an AI device that can control all other devices, before it can be bought on the black market. To aid him, Jasmine brings in American tech guru Sarah Fidel (Audrey Plaza) and J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone).
However, Fortune's former partner and now frenemy Mike (Peter Ferdinando) is also after The Handle. Fortune is now in a spy vs. spy scenario to get access to Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), the notorious and eccentric arms dealer who will be the seller. A most unusual way is found to get close to Simmons. It is American action star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), who is Simmons' favorite movie star. Francesco is blackmailed into participating, but despite his hesitancy and common sense now finds he likes Simmons.
The Handle, however, remains the top priority as every is after it. With Fortune and his team going up against Mike and his, it remains to be seen whether either can win this round.
I do not think anyone will ever claim Jason Statham is an actual actor versus a competent action star. As a character observed, "Big difference between actor and movie star". With his perpetual glower and staccato delivery, Statham is at least to his credit fully in on the joke. Ruse de Guerre brings back memories of Spy, where the joke was his stern, matter-of-fact manner going against the outlandishness of the dialogue and situation. As such, Ruse de Guerre is aware of itself and does not really try to make any of this serious.
Is this a good or bad thing? Well, here the idea that everyone knows this is not serious allows for a more lenient look at the film. However, it also allows for us to be separated from what are meant to be the hijinks going on. The screenplay by Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies and director Guy Ritchie wants to throw quips upon quips and pass itself off as amusing. Instead, it ends up making everyone a caricature where you think it is not the characters who are unaware, but that the actors are too aware.
When everyone is in on the joke, it robs the story of even the possibility of plausibility in its universe, let alone anywhere else. For something to be funny in my opinion, the characters must not know they are being funny or are funny. The humor comes through putting these particular people through strange situations. Given that everyone knows Ruse de Guerre is almost a spoof, no one really shows up to try and make this believable.
Take the scene where Francesco is forcibly recruited. We already have the information because it has been told to us. However, we get to hear the same information less than five minutes later. I think it would have been funnier if we had the information the second time around. The sequence where Fortune breaks into a home only to find he confused the front and back entrances is not unexpected. You almost wait for Ruse de Guerre to go down familiar roads.
Other parts threw me off because of their predictability. When Fortune asks Francesco if he's a patriot, the latter replies, "Well I don't vote Republican if that's what you mean". What would have been funnier would be if the big-time movie star would have said "Democratic". It would be a nice counter to the stereotype of "liberal Hollywood". It would have been funny because you would not be expecting it. In Ruse de Guerre, you are expecting it, so there is no payoff.
The script, even for what looks like a spoof of sorts, fails the actors. Greg, for example, never questions why Francesco shows up on his yacht when he had earlier turned down an offer for a personal appearance. Francesco disappears for long stretches in the film, and when he pops back up one is almost startled because we forgot he was there to begin with.
I do not know if casting Hartnett was some kind of in-joke. Presented as the next big star, especially after being prominently featured in such films as Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor, Hartnett never took off for whatever reason. Here, he looks like he's game for some mockery, but he has little to work with. Grant, fully aware of what Ruse de Guerre is, went all-in on the camp.
Jason Statham cannot act. He plays the same character either as parody or serious. Here, he is in the former. Plaza was a bit too sarcastic in her role, but that was her character, so I cut her some slack. Elwes too played the part well as written (slightly miffed British official), so again, that might be a plus.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre suggests there will be a sequel, both with the colon and with the trio of Statham, Plaza and Malone (who served no purpose in the film) walking away and hinting at the next assignment. It is possible for this to be another franchise, but why would we want Fortune to growl upon us again?